Going To College With a Learning Disability

Learning disability and going to college
April 26, 2024
4 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 1/29/24


This article will give you the steps you need to take to get into college with a learning disability and explore the types of accommodations you should expect once you get there.


Having a learning disability can make school difficult, so thinking about getting into college can be daunting. To achieve your goal of going to college with a learning disability, there are a few steps you can take that can make the process easier.

This article will guide you through the different steps needed to successfully be admitted into college with a disability and describe the types of help you might be able to take advantage of.

Learning Disabilities in College Students You Need to Know

For the average student without a learning disability, college can prove to be difficult and grueling. For a student in college with a learning disability such as ADHD, it can be even harder.

That’s why many colleges have set up accommodations of all kinds for students to excel beyond their barriers. Here are some learning disabilities in college that may cause some students to struggle.

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) impacts an individual's cognitive state with symptoms of hyperactivity. This may manifest as excessive fidgeting, procrastination, and challenges in maintaining focus, particularly influenced by factors such as light, sound, or stimulation.

Dyslexia - A learning disorder characterized by difficulties in reading, spelling, and writing despite having average to above-average intelligence. These students may struggle with decoding words, recognizing sight words, and organizing written language.

Dyscalculia - Related to mathematical concepts, students with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding and manipulating numerical and mathematical concepts. Challenges may include difficulty with calculations, understanding mathematical symbols, and grasping the concept of time.

Auditory Processing Disorder - APD affects the processing of auditory information in the brain. Students with APD may struggle to interpret and make sense of auditory signals, leading to difficulties in understanding spoken language, following directions, and filtering out background noise.

Visual Processing Disorder - Visual processing disorders involve difficulties in interpreting visual information. Challenges may include difficulty recognizing shapes, letters, or words, impacting reading and written expression.

Working Memory Difficulties - Working memory is important for holding information temporarily. Difficulties in working memory can affect the ability to follow multi-step instructions, remember details, and manage complex tasks, impacting academic performance.

Steps To Take When Going To College With a Learning Disability

Going to college with a learning disability is not a straightforward proposition. Not only can it be difficult to get good grades, but it is also hard to know how to make sure you get fair and equal treatment. 

A lot of students with learning disabilities are hesitant to disclose this information to colleges. They worry that admissions committees may feel they would be unable to keep up with their institution’s academic rigor. It is important to do what you can before applying to colleges to prove your academic ability, despite your learning disability. 

Take a look at the following eight steps to help you do this:

1. Start Preparing Early.

If you want to go to college and you have a learning disability, you may want to start taking college prep courses as early as freshman year. This will allow you to get used to the difficult coursework and will help prove to colleges your dedication to academic endeavors.

2. Experiment With Technology

There are a lot of options for using technology that can help you deal with your learning disabilities. You can use these different technologies throughout your high school career so that you know which ones would work best for you.

3. Be Creative With the Types of Courses You Take

There might be some courses you could do that work well with your learning disability and look good on a college application. For example, taking American Sign Language for your language credit is a great way to accommodate your learning disability while having something unique to put on your college application.

4. Be in Charge of Your Own Learning

Try to learn exactly what you will need to be successful in school. In a college setting, it's important to advocate for yourself by knowing the accommodations that best support your needs. Knowing what you have access to can contribute to improved grades and an increased learning experience.

5. Carefully Research College Options

Take your time when researching colleges, as each school will have a different way of approaching going to college with a learning disability. Some schools might have better aid for students with disabilities, and you might find they are the types of schools you would prefer to attend.

6. Get Updated Documentation of Your Learning Disability

Make sure that you have up-to-date documentation about your learning disability. This might be needed when applying to school and is often needed if you want to take advantage of the different accommodations the school has for students with learning disabilities.

7. Accentuate the Positive

When composing your college applications, consider talking about your learning disability in your college essays. Overcoming adversity always looks good on an application and can help those who want to excel further in their careers.

8. Consider Extra Help

Seeking help from teachers, aides, or professionals might help you get good grades when you have a learning disability and want to go to college. Also, look for different grants or scholarships that can help you continue this assistance.

The above steps can help you get into the college of your choice while still taking into account some of the difficulties of being a student with a learning disability.

Does Having an IEP Affect College Acceptance?

An individualized education program (IEP) is a program where students with a learning disability have specialized instruction that can assist in their learning. An IEP can take the form of specialized instructions (such as having a teacher’s aide read assignment instructions aloud) or using technology that can help the student cope with their learning disability.

Though it is not required for students hoping to go to college with a learning disability to disclose that they have an IEP, it might be helpful to research the schools you want to attend before starting the application process. 

Some colleges do not require students with an IEP to take the SAT or ACT, meaning they would be exempt from these difficult standardized tests.

Does Having a 504 Plan Affect College Admissions?

For students going to college with a learning disability, it can be very important to have proper documentation (such as a 504 plan) about your disability and what types of accommodations you may need.

A 504 plan is a documented plan that students with a learning disability would have concerning any accommodations that might be needed for their schooling. Unlike the IEP, a 504 plan is concerned with the official documentation of the student’s learning disability and the type of help they might need for academic success.

The 504 plan is necessary for students who want to go to college, as it grants them access to public education and services. This is also important for those applying to college; it protects their right to education and states that schools cannot reject a student due to their learning disability. 

Students who already have been working with an IEP during elementary and high school must get a 504 plan established, as the services given to them for the IEP will no longer be effective. That means that it would no longer be documented that you have an official learning disability, which could affect your ability to get into college.

Most colleges will require official documentation about your learning disability for you to access help and for some, extra help will be the only way they can cope with the rigors of college classes.

Accommodations for Students With a Learning Disability

Typical accommodations offered to college students with learning disabilities are disability services office, specific instruction modifications, modified coursework and testing, classroom adjustments, additional time, disability resource centers, and assisted technology.

These accommodations can help students attend college and thrive despite their learning disabilities.

FAQs: Going To College With Learning Disabilities

Attending college as a student with a learning disability can feel like an uphill climb, so we’ve outlined the most common questions students ask.

1. Can Someone With Learning Disabilities Succeed in College?

Someone with a learning disability can be very successful in college, especially if they can get help with the areas that give them difficulty. By using some of the accommodations that are offered, college students can thrive in their classes.

2. How Do Learning Disabilities Affect College Students?

College students with a learning disability might need extra help with assignments or tests. They will often have to work harder at getting good grades as they have to learn to cope with their learning disability on their own rather than with the help of a teacher’s aid. 

3. Is it Easier To Get Into College With a Learning Disability?

No, students with a learning disability do not get any advantages when it comes to getting into college.

4. Should I Mention My Learning Disabilities in College Applications?

This is a personal decision, but it can be helpful to mention a learning disability in college applications, as it will show the school how dedicated you are to gaining a higher education. Also, it could mean that you are eligible for accommodations once you attend college, which can be very helpful.

Final Thoughts

Though it can be very difficult for a student going to college with a learning disability, rest assured it won’t ruin your chances of attending your dream school. 

Successfully navigating college with a learning disability is a remarkable achievement. This article aims to highlight that regardless of your abilities, obtaining a college education is an attainable goal.

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